Ovaltine (Ovomaltine) is a brand of milk flavoring product made with malt extract (except in the blue packaging in the United States), sugar (except in Switzerland), and whey. Some flavors also have cocoa. Ovaltine, a registered trademark of Associated British Foods, is made by Wander AG, a subsidiary of Twinings which acquired the brand from Novartis in 2003, except in the United States where Nestlé acquired the rights separately from Novartis later on.
Ovaltine was developed in Bern, Switzerland, where it is known by its original name, Ovomaltine (from ovum, Latin for "egg," and malt, which were originally its main ingredients). Soon after its invention, the factory moved out to the village of Neuenegg, a few kilometres west of Berne, where it is still produced.
Ovomaltine was exported to Britain in 1909; a misspelling of the name on the trademark registration application led to the name being shortened to Ovaltine in English-speaking markets. A factory was built in Kings Langley, which exported it to the United States as well. By 1915, Ovaltine was being manufactured in Villa Park, Illinois, for the U.S. market. Ovaltine was later manufactured in Peterborough, Ontario for distribution in Canada.
Originally advertised as consisting solely of "malt, milk, eggs, flavoured with cocoa", the formulation has changed over the decades, and today several formulations are sold in different parts of the world.
The popular chocolate malt version is a powder which is mixed with hot or cold milk as a beverage. Malt Ovaltine (a version without cocoa) and Rich Chocolate Ovaltine (a version without malt) are also available in some markets. Ovaltine has also been available in the form of chocolate bars, chocolate Easter eggs, parfait, cookies, and breakfast cereals, where it is the only brand name that connects the cereals with the chocolate drink.
Ovaltine also manufactured PDQ Chocolate Flavor Beads, PDQ Choco Chips and Eggnog Flavored PDQ, which are no longer available. These drink mixes were very popular from the 1960s to the 1980s. Ovaltine discontinued the PDQ products around 1996.
The U.S. children's radio series Little Orphan Annie (1931–1940) and Captain Midnight (1938–1949), and the subsequent Captain Midnight TV series (1954–1956), were sponsored by Ovaltine. They had promotions in which listeners could save proofs-of-purchase from Ovaltine jars to obtain radio premiums, such as "secret decoder ring" badges, or pins that could be used to decode messages in the program. Children from the time may remember that "Ovaltine" is an anagram for "Vital One".
Another radio program aimed at five- to fourteen-year-olds, The League of Ovaltineys, was broadcast to Great Britain by Radio Luxembourg on Sunday evenings at 5:30 PM. Beginning in February 1935, it was broadcast until September 1939, when the outbreak of World War II forced closure of the station, and again after the war from 1952. Like with the U.S. program, listeners could obtain badges, pins, and secret codes. The Ovaltineys' advertising jingle was regarded as one of the most successful jingles of the era. and featured the iconic English singing trio The Beverley Sisters.
Villa Park, Illinois, was home to the Ovaltine factory in the United States until the company's purchase and withdrawal in 1988. The Villa Park Historical Society maintains a permanent exhibit of Ovaltine advertising and memorabilia. The old factory was converted to loft apartments keeping the original floors and wall exposed.
In 1992, Himmel Group obtained the right to make and sell Ovaltine in the U.S. from Sandoz Nutrition Corporation. In 2007, Himmel sold their rights to Novartis. As of 2007, Nestlé had acquired Novartis and has the rights to Ovaltine. With this purchase, Nestlé immediately ceased Ovaltine's previous television advertising campaign targeted to older and nostalgic audiences, where Ovaltine was presented as more nutritious than former competitor Nesquik, and though it is still sold widely in the United States, Ovaltine is currently not advertised on American television.
Ovaltine was also very popular in Britain, and was manufactured at Kings Langley in Hertfordshire using a process that included GEA Wiegand falling film evaporators to concentrate liquid malt extract which was then dried under vacuum in steam heated band dryers. The art deco style Ovaltine factory in Kings Langley is a well-known local landmark. Production ceased in 2002 and the factory has now been redeveloped as luxury flats. Near the factory was a health farm run by the Ovaltine works which was set up as a model farm and a health resort for disadvantaged children, which operated until the 1960s. Later the farm land was sold and is now largely occupied by the M25 motorway. The Ovaltine Egg Farm is now the site of Renewable Energy Systems Ltd. and the site of the first wind turbine visible from the M25.
In October 2002, the food and drinks division of Novartis, the maker of Ovaltine, was bought by Associated British Foods. ABF currently produces Ovaltine in Switzerland, China, Thailand and Australia. In the United States Nestlé manufactures Ovaltine.
In Hong Kong, Ovaltine, like Horlicks, is known as a café drink. It is served at cha chaan tengs as well as fast-food shops such as Café de Coral and Maxim's Express. It is served hot, or on ice as a cold drink. In Hong Kong, the powder is sold without sugar, to be sweetened to taste by the consumer. In Brazil, it is commonly mixed with vanilla ice cream. In the Asian market, it is a chocolate ice cream flavoured with Ovaltine powder. The Ovomaltine brand is highly recognizable in Switzerland, and the brand is associated with skiing and snowboarding.
In Malaysia, Ovaltine has lost its popularity to Nestlé Milo. Ovaltine is sold in Tetra Pak cartons for cold serving and widely available in shops and supermarkets, yet it has a low profile compared to similar beverages in the market. In Japan, Ovaltine was sold for a short period in the late 1970s by Calpis Industries (presently Calpis Co., Ltd.), but it was not a commercial success. In Australia, Ovalteenies are sold as round tablets of compressed Ovaltine, eaten as candy.
Brazilian fast-food chain Bob's, the largest competitor to McDonald's in that country, offered, since 1959, milkshakes and sundaes made with Ovaltine, where it goes by the name of "Ovomaltine", which became a flagship product of the fast-food chain in Brazil. In 2016, McDonald's acquired exclusive rights to sell "Ovomaltine"-branded milkshakes. Brazil has the second largest Ovaltine factory, in São Paulo, and is the second largest consumer market for the product, after Thailand. The Brazilian Ovaltine is unlike any other in the world, originating from an assembly line malfunction that made the powder crispier that is still maintained today.
In 2011, Ovaltine was banned in Denmark under legislation forbidding the sale of food products with added vitamins.In William Trevor's novel Felicia's Journey Mr Hilditch repeatedly makes warm Ovaltine for Felicia and himself. "Later in the kitchen, he makes Ovaltine. [...] She takes the mug he offers her. She sips the Ovaltine, leaning against the dresser." (pp. 133) "'I'm heating milk for Ovaltine.' He can think of nothing better to say, and she follows him into the kitchen, clearly more tranquil now. When he has made the drink he suggests they might like to have it in the big front room. 'Make a change for you, eh?'" (p. 147)
In 1947, Harry Gibson's song Who Put the Benzedrine in Mrs. Murphy's Ovaltine? was popular on the radio.
One subplot of the 1983 film A Christmas Story has Ralphie Parker anxiously decoding the secret message on the Little Orphan Annie radio program, only to discover it's no more than an encouragement to drink Ovaltine. He responds, "A crummy commercial?!"
In the Seinfeld season 6 episode "The Fatigues", Jerry Seinfeld's colleague Kenny Bania (Steve Hytner) is given a joke by Jerry regarding the name of Ovaltine: "Why do they call it Ovaltine? The jar is round. The mug is round. They should call it Roundtine!", to which Kenny replies "That's gold, Jerry! Gold!".
When Dr. Frankenstein arrives at his grandfather's castle in the movie Young Frankenstein, the housekeeper shows him to his room. After failing to interest the doctor in a nightcap of brandy or some warm milk, she tries one more time: "Ovaltine?"
The favorite snack of Sgt. Schlock from Schlock Mercenary is "Ovalkwik"; Ovaltine manufactured with Nesquik chocolate powder instead of cocoa. However, he eats it from the jar instead of mixing it into a beverage.